Inside College Classrooms

Tom Perrotta, author of the novel Little Children, was an undergraduate at Yale, a graduate student at Syracuse, and a teacher at Harvard and Yale. I assume this passage from Little Children is based on that experience:

What did her in [as a graduate student] was the teaching. Some people loved it, of course, loved the sound of their own voices, the chance to display their cleverness to a captive audience. And then there were the instructors like herself, who simply couldn’t communicate in a classroom setting. They made one point over and over with mind-numbing insistence, or else they circled around a dozen half-articulated ideas without landing on a single one. They read woodenly from prepared notes, or got lost in their muddled syntax while attempting to speak off the cuff. God help them if they attempted a joke.

Curious. To “love teaching” is to love hearing your own voice and showing off. This passage seems to imply that Perrotta’s teachers either “loved teaching” in this unpleasant sense or were muddled and awkward failures. I would have thought that in a non-occupational-skills class (such as sociology, history, or literature), what a good teacher does is tell lots of stories. Apparently this didn’t happen much in Perrotta’s experience.

2 Replies to “Inside College Classrooms”

  1. Thats funny, I believe the best teachers are facilitators. She sounds like she was trained poorly. I think that they assume teaching assistants have been in school so long that they can pull from their own experiences as to how to teach.

    Also, I find when I teach, and I am secretly a learner. Also, it is a way of showing mastery of a topic. If she is getting an advanced degree in a topic, she should be able to communicate that topic at a basic level to many kinds of people. Teaching is good for ya.

  2. Little Children is fiction; the woman referred to in that passage doesn’t exist. But I think you’re right, the training about how to teach given graduate students has plenty of room for improvement.

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